Mythological Figures: Perseus (5E)
  • Mythological Figures: Perseus (5E)


    Today’s entry in Mythological Figures is one of Greece’s most beloved heroes, known far and wide for slaying Medusa and having the coolest gear: Perseus! He is not however the tamer of Pegasus—read onward to find out more about the invisible-capped decapitating founder of Mycenea.




    Not unsurprisingly, Perseus is one of Zeus’ offspring. His mother is Danaë, a woman prophecied to beget the usurper of the King of Argos (Acrisius) and locked away to no avail. Not quite willing to cross the gods directly, Acrisius casts mother and son out into the sea in a wooden chest. They survive and are taken in by the fisherman Dictys, himself the brother of the king of the island he lived on (a fellow named Polydectes).

    This Polydectes guy takes a shine on Danaë but Perseus won’t have it—so he tricks him, requesting all the guests of an upcoming banquet to bring him horses to win the hand of Hippodamia. Perseus has no horses and says “name the gift” and in reply Polydectes chooses the head of Medusa (the only mortal gorgon; the mythological kind, not the metal bull). Athena (the Goddess of Wisdom) instructs Perseus to find the Nymphs of the West (the Hesperides) to acquire the weapons to kill her and to do that he first seeks out the Graeae, three sisters of the gorgon—these are the old women that share one eye between them that you’ll probably remember from the Hercules animated movie from the House of Maus. To get them to share this information Perseus steals their eye, holding it hostage until they tell him where to find the nymphs.

    Once Perseus reaches Hera’s orchard he’s given a knapsack to hold Medusa’s head, an adamantine sword from Zeus (a sickle-ended blade called a harpe), the Cap of Invisibility from Hades, a polished shield from Athena, and loaned Herme’s talaria (the winged sandals). [Editorial Note: Ridiculous haul.] When he gets to Medusa’s cave she’s sleeping and using the reflection of the shield, he safely sneaks up on her and decapitates the gorgon in her sleep. Pegasus—that’s right, the winged horse Pegasus—springs from out of her headless body along with the golden sword Chrysaor. Two other gorgons chase after him but he escapes by using the helm from Hades, going to Mauretania and seeking refuge from King Atlas. He’s refused and so Perseus turns him to stone.

    Next he stops at Seriphos Island where the local monarchy (King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia) have angered Poseidon by the queen’s claim that her daughter Andromeda is as beautiful as the Nereids (sea nymphs). The god of the sea sends the cetus (“fishlike, serpentine, with a long muzzle. Alternate depictions may include long ears, horns and legs instead of flippers”; it’s not hard to see why this sometimes gets replaced with the kraken) to terrorize them until the oracle of Ammon tells them to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster. Perseus slays the creature and takes her as his wife despite her betrothal to Phineus who (get ready for the refrain) gets turned to stone in a quarrel at the wedding.

    Perseus returns home to find that his mother is being violently pursued by Polydectes so guess who gets turned to stone. Afterward he returns his magical goodies, the fisherman Dictys becomes king of the island., and Athena puts Medusa’s head onto Zeus’ shield. Somewhere around here, Perseus fulfills the oracle’s prophecy and kills King Acrisius but exactly how is disputed—my personal favorite is that while showing off his new game (quoit which is basically horseshoes) he accidentally hits the man with a piece of thrown metal, but some sources have it as a discus, and then there’s another where Perseus turns both his step-father and step-uncle to stone (of course).

    There’s more to Perseus—he swaps rulership of kingdoms, frequently replaces Bellerophon as the tamer of Pegasus (yay myth), founds Mycenae, and is killed by Megapenthes in vengeance for the death of King Acrisius—but this is already overly long and he’s got a Wikipedia page.

    Design Notes: Why is Perseus a thief? So he can frequently reach into a bag to snag Medusa’s head and pull off his favorite trick! I’m of the mind that most classical heroes ought to have some fighter levels and to make him useful to GMs (because dropping a petrification thief onto the party is at best very mean) amped him up to extra attack level. Also friendly reminder that more D&D Greece stuff is on my website. The astute mechanics among you might notice his CR is slightly higher than the math suggests—I argue that “turn people to stone once a turn” is worth an extra bit of oomph, and generally give a fairly generous number of hit points for calculating when a statblock has Uncanny Dodge. Might even be worth boosting to 11, although be warned: PCs are not going to want to part with his equipment after they’ve got their hands on it.

    Perseus
    Medium humanoid (human), lawful good rogue (thief) 7/fighter (champion) 5

    Armor Class
    17 (leather, +1 shield)
    Hit Points 83 (7d8+5d10+24)
    Speed 30 ft., fly 30 ft.

    STR
    DEX
    CON
    INT
    WIS
    CHA
    11 (+0)
    16 (+3)
    15 (+2)
    14 (+2)
    10 (+0)
    14 (+2)

    Saving Throws
    Dex +7, Int +6
    Skills Athletics +8, Perception +4, Persuasion +10, Sleight of Hand +7, Stealth +11; vehicle (water) +8
    Senses passive Perception 14
    Languages Common, Thieves’ Cant
    Challenge 10 (5,900 XP)

    Background: Nautical. Perseus is able to acquire passage on a sailing ship for him and his allies free of charge. He has no control over the ship’s route, departure, or return, and although no coin is required he and his companions do have to help crew the vessel.

    Action Surge (1/short rest). Once on his turn, Perseus can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

    Cunning Action (1/turn). Perseus can take a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, Hide, Use Object action, Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check, or to use thieves’ tools to disarm a trap or open a lock.

    Evasion. When Perseus is subjected to an effect that allows him to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, he instead takes no damage if he succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if he fails.

    Feat: Fortune Points (3/long rest). Perseus can spend one fortune point to reroll an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, or to force an attacker to reroll an attack made against him.

    Improved Critical. Perseus’ weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20.

    Magic Items. Perseus carries a reflective +1 shield, the Chrysaor (a golden vorpal shortsword), Hermes’ talaria (winged boots), and the helm of darkness from Hades (treat as a ring of invisibility).

    Medusa's Head. Perseus carries the severed head of Medusa in a knapsack and can use his Cunning Action to wield the monster’s Petrifying Gaze.
    Petrifying Gaze. When a creature that can see the medusa's eyes starts its turn within 30 ft. of the medusa’s head, makes a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is instantly petrified. Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to turn to stone and is restrained. The restrained creature must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic.

    Second-Story Work. Climbing does not costs Perseus extra movement. When he makes a running jump, the distance he covers increases by 3 feet.

    Second Wind (1/short rest). On his turn, Perseus can use a bonus action to regain 1d10+5 hit points.

    Sneak Attack (1/turn). Perseus deals an extra 14 (4d6) damage when he hits a target with a weapon attack and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of Perseus that isn’t incapacitated and Perseus doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

    ACTIONS

    Extra Attack.
    Perseus can attack twice, instead of once, whenever he takes the Attack action on his turn.

    Harpe (adamantine vorpal shortsword). Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (1d6+8) magical slashing damage that ignores resistances. When the creature has at least one head and Perseus rolls a 20 on the attack roll, he cuts off one of the creature’s heads. The creature dies if it can’t survive without the lost head. A creature is immune to this effect if it is immune to slashing damage, doesn’t have or need a head, has legendary actions, or the GM decides that the creature is too big for its head to be cut off with this weapon. Such a creature instead takes an extra 27 (6d8) slashing damage from the hit.

    REACTIONS

    Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker Perseus can see hits him with an attack, Perseus can use his reaction to halve the attack’s damage against him.
    SaveSave
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Quartz's Avatar
      Quartz -
      I'm not a fan of the vorpal effect as you describe it. I'd rather the vorpalness be a SFX of reducing the target to 0 HP.

      You appear to have missed off that he has the Duellist fighting style and that the sword is +3. You might also give him an extra Fighter level to give him the Shield Master feat.
    1. Caliburn101's Avatar
      Caliburn101 -
      Not sure he was so average in strength either.

      What brought you to that conclusion?
    1. LuisCarlos17f's Avatar
      LuisCarlos17f -
      I remember when I was a little child, and the movie "Clash of the Titans" (80's) was in the cinemas. I couldn't see the battle among Perseus and Medusa because I was too scared. The scene where Perseus' allies were petrified was scaring for me, then a little boy.
    1. maceochaid's Avatar
      maceochaid -
      Chrysaor was a giant or a flying boar, not a sword, he goes on to become the king of Iberia with the nymph Callirrhoe and fathers Geryon according to Hesiod.
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Quartz View Post
      I'm not a fan of the vorpal effect as you describe it. I'd rather the vorpalness be a SFX of reducing the target to 0 HP.

      You appear to have missed off that he has the Duellist fighting style and that the sword is +3. You might also give him an extra Fighter level to give him the Shield Master feat.
      It's RAW and intended to be altered by GMs as needed. I am also not crazy about the 5E vorpal blade but it is what it is, and I reckon he definitely wouldn't have killed Medusa without it. You are right about the fighting style and magic sword, but they aren't explicitly stated in statblocks (I assume to keep them short; it's expected for GMs to know about those things and figure it out--which you have done splendidly). You could give him another level and Shield Master too but I didn't feel like Perseus is a master of the shield, he's a dude folks liked and let borrow a really dope shield among other things.


      Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
      Not sure he was so average in strength either.

      What brought you to that conclusion?
      I didn't remember or stumble upon another about Perseus being very strong so he's stronger than the average person, but not by much. Mechanically his Strength wasn't essential to his statblock so it didn't get emphasis.


      Quote Originally Posted by LuisCarlos17f View Post
      I remember when I was a little child, and the movie "Clash of the Titans" (80's) was in the cinemas. I couldn't see the battle among Perseus and Medusa because I was too scared. The scene where Perseus' allies were petrified was scaring for me, then a little boy.
      Ray Harryhausen was a godsend.


      Quote Originally Posted by maceochaid View Post
      Chrysaor was a giant or a flying boar, not a sword, he goes on to become the king of Iberia with the nymph Callirrhoe and fathers Geryon according to Hesiod.
      Ack! You are 100% correct. Chrysaor has a golden sword, he is not actually one, and Perseus wielded a hooked sword called the Harpe--fixed!
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      Ray Harryhausen was a godsend.
      I'm a Harryhausen fan from childhood, really. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, in particular, set my expectations for D&D. Well, and the skelletons from 7th Voyage, and Jason & the Argonauts, of course.

      But, Clash of the Titans was a dissapointment. As I understood it, he wasn't able to do much of the work himself, anymore, so the level of artistry just wasn't quite what it had been, and I was familiar with Perseus from Edith Hamilton, which did not include the version where he replaced Bellerophon ...
      ...not that Harryhausen & Schneer were ever remotely faithful to their subject matter...

      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      Perseus! ... he’s given a knapsack to hold Medusa’s head, an adamantine sword from Zeus (a sickle-ended blade called a harpe), the Cap of Invisibility from Hades, a polished shield from Athena, and loaned Herme’s talaria (the winged sandals). [Editorial Note: Ridiculous haul.] When he gets to Medusa’s cave she’s sleeping and using the reflection of the shield, he safely sneaks up on her and decapitates the gorgon in her sleep. ...Two other gorgons chase after him but he escapes by using the helm from Hades, going to Mauretania and seeking refuge from King Atlas. He’s refused and so Perseus turns him to stone. ..Perseus slays the creature and takes her as his wife despite her betrothal to Phineus who (get ready for the refrain) gets turned to stone in a quarrel at the wedding. ...Perseus returns home to find that his mother is being violently pursued by Polydectes so guess who gets turned to stone. ...and then there’s another where Perseus turns both his step-father and step-uncle to stone (of course).
      I've long been of the opinion that magic-item-dripping, Medusa-murdering, severed-head-gaze-weapon-abusing, Perseus is the most D&D-character-like 'hero' from myth & legend.
      This write-up certainly does him justice.
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      I've long been of the opinion that magic-item-dripping, Medusa-murdering, severed-head-gaze-weapon-abusing, Perseus is the most D&D-character-like 'hero' from myth & legend.
      This write-up certainly does him justice.
      Right? I knew he turned a few people to stone but forgot that it was like everybody he could justify doing it to. Very much a D&D character.
    1. BookBarbarian's Avatar
      BookBarbarian -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      Right? I knew he turned a few people to stone but forgot that it was like everybody he could justify doing it to. Very much a D&D character.
      His DM must have been so sick of him using the same strategy every time, he just kept letting it succeed.
    1. maceochaid's Avatar
      maceochaid -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      I'm a Harryhausen fan from childhood, really. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, in particular, set my expectations for D&D. Well, and the skelletons from 7th Voyage, and Jason & the Argonauts, of course.

      But, Clash of the Titans was a dissapointment. As I understood it, he wasn't able to do much of the work himself, anymore, so the level of artistry just wasn't quite what it had been, and I was familiar with Perseus from Edith Hamilton, which did not include the version where he replaced Bellerophon ...
      ...not that Harryhausen & Schneer were ever remotely faithful to their subject matter...
      Well neither were the Greeks re: faithful to their subject matter. I feel canon is definitely a Judeo-Christian concept because of the single book. Perseus' story gets changed around a lot. What I find most interesting about Clash of the Titans is how the put Thetis as the mother of Calabos. I don't have any reason to believe this was intentional, but I do feel that this does something very interesting. Thetis, a goddess of Justice, plays one role in mythology, to give birth to Achilles the hero of the most important piece of literature in the Greek world. A birth that should have led to the overthrow of Zeus, but how to contain the threat he ensured that Thetis' son would be mortal. The Iliad deeply considers the role of justice and how unfair it is for mortals, and both Zeus and Achilles are in a deadlock, allied to the same code of glory and honor, but essentially enemies in that Zeus limited Achilles' glory from being the greatest immortal, to the greatest mortal which is achievable only through a heroic death. Essentially Man's greatest hero is the one willing to rail against the gods and die in a blaze of glory as a protest to the unfairness, and God loves him for it. (Yes I know that Achilles' death occurs outside of the Iliad, but the Greeks knew the story, and that is part of his theme throughout the Iliad). ANYWAYS, Calabos on the other hand is a more typical devil like creature. Representing a more Christian world view that the enemy of God is an enemy of all, and like Caliban and Grendel is a creature who is shunned for his sins and instead of repenting keeps retreating into evil in a kind of Miltonian Satan motivation. ANYWHO, if anyone is in charge of a journal for stop motion film studies, I'd be happy to send you an abstract
      for your consideration for publication.
    1. Kobold Stew's Avatar
      Kobold Stew -
      Quote Originally Posted by maceochaid View Post
      ANYWHO, if anyone is in charge of a journal for stop motion film studies, I'd be happy to send you an abstract
      for your consideration for publication.
      If you are serious and have a full academic paper, send it here.
    1. David Weihe's Avatar
      David Weihe -
      Quote Originally Posted by maceochaid View Post
      Well neither were the Greeks re: faithful to their subject matter. I feel canon is definitely a Judeo-Christian concept because of the single book.
      You clearly haven't noticed that there are four gospels, not one (not to mention the non-canonicals), or that Genesis has two different Creation stories in the first two chapters. Canon means recognized as divinely inspired, not that they all agree in all (or any minor) respects (e.g., the genealogy of Jesus before Joseph).

      Of course, in the case of Perseus, he was several generations before Herakles, who was a generation or so before the Trojan War, who was one collapse of civilization and several centuries before Homer or Hesiod, who were centuries before their stories were set down in writing, and poets felt that they had a right to compose new stories for centuries thereafter. Perhaps 1200 years between the Perseus incident and the writing of the latest story that I know, the Argonautica. Surely long enough for multiple versions to arise :-) .
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